Thad Matta had already developed a reputation as a great recruiter, but one act before the start of his second season at Ohio State might have taken the cake.
With the Buckeyes one year removed from a postseason ban and one year shy of bringing in the “Thad Five” recruiting class that included Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook, the 2005-06 squad boasted a familiar face on the baseline. After finishing the previous season as the interim head coach for the Orlando Magic, former OSU standout Chris Jent was back in Columbus taking classes and working as a volunteer assistant with the Buckeyes.
Apparently, that was enough to get the interest of one of the team’s seniors.
“I can still remember Matt Sylvester said to me, ‘Coach I knew you could recruit but when you recruited a former NBA head coach to be a manager, that’s the best one that you’ve ever done before,’ ” Matta said.
Now, Jent is back on staff at OSU – and he will actually be getting paid. Wednesday, the university announced that Matta had hired Jent as the newest member of his staff. His addition fills a void left when Brandon Miller resigned in mid-June in order to spend more time with his family.
Matta said Jent immediately became his top choice for the position.
“I didn’t know if he would ever have an interest and that’s why I reached out to him and drove up,” the head coach said. “I told him this could be the biggest recruit I’ve ever gone after.”
After playing for the Buckeyes from 1988-92, Jent began a 10-year playing career that included two seasons in the NBA. His most recent job came a little more than two hours up the road from Columbus where he worked as an assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Although some view moving from the NBA to the collegiate level as a step backward, Jent said he does not see it that way.
“Everyone I would talk to said, ‘Go with your gut,’ ” he said. “I’d go to work every day and say, ‘This is fantastic, I’m an NBA coach.’ I’d be on my drive home and my stomach and my gut kept pulling me back to Columbus and I couldn’t deny that.”
Jent added that the likelihood of a work stoppage in the NBA had no impact on his choice to join the Buckeyes.
However, the decision was not one Jent made lightly. The newest member of the OSU staff described it as the hardest decision of his entire life outside of “real-life” decisions.
While in Cleveland, Jent developed a reputation for seeing improved performances from the players under his watch.
“It’s no secret Chris was one of the best in the NBA of making players better,” Matta said. “To have that now on our staff (with) type of kids we’re trying to recruit and where we’re trying to get them, I don’t know if I could’ve gotten anything better in the country than what he’s going to bring to the table.”
Among the players Jent worked with extensively was LeBron James, now with the Miami Heat. The approach for working with James will be the same he will use for all players, Jent said.
“It’s really about people, learning how to communicate with someone like Bron, knowing where he is, in his mind and where he wants to be,” he said. “Everyone has voids in their game. What are they willing to do to get better day to day? Just coaching is what gives you that experience, whether it be Bron or J.J. Hickson or Daniel Gibson or Jared Sullinger.
“The person is what matters, what they’re able to do and what they need to do to get better.”
Matta said Jent’s specific coaching duties have not yet been determined. Miller was instrumental in helping turn Jon Diebler into an NBA draft pick and the Big Ten’s all-time leading three-point shooter after he hit 28.9 percent of his attempts as a freshman.
He will be on the recruiting trail for the university, however.
“It’s a people business,” Jent said of being a recruiter. “I like people. I think people have a good rapport with me. I think I know a little bit about the game too to help people know about themselves and what we’re trying to do here. I’m not worried about that. I get to learn from the best anyway.”
OSU’s coaching staff now consists of a former collegiate head coach (Dave Dickerson, Tulane), a rising assistant who has turned down such opportunities (Jeff Boals) and a former NBA head coach in Jent.
The chance to work for his alma mater alongside Matta made it a slam dunk, Jent said.
“It allows me to expand my experience in coaching,” he said. “I’ve never coached in college before and to learn from these guys. It’s almost like another world for me. I’m obviously intrigued by it. The fact that it’s my alma mater and a place I have a strong tie to, a strong gut feeling towards and a great amount of passion to, it made it easy.”
Williams Cleared – Matta confirmed that 2011 signee Amir Williams is eligible to play for the Buckeyes this fall. Monday, BSB confirmed that the four-star center prospect remained in Michigan and was taking an English course with plans to enroll at OSU by July 25 for the start of the second session of summer courses.